Anna Dressed in Blood
by Kendare Blake
There are spoilers in the PLOT section of this review.
Synopsis (via Amazon):
Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.
When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn't expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.
But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas's life.
Cas: The main character, son of a ghost hunter and now a ghost hunter himself, he leads a lonely, troubled life. Personally, I don't like Cas much through most of the book. He's kind of an arrogant ass, and not in an endearing way. He makes assumptions about people, and is very contradictory, one minute thinking he's all that, then the next talking about how he's scrawny... his thoughts don't always mesh.
Carmel: The "It" girl at the High School Cas attends while he hunts Anna, Carmel find herself drawn into Cas's haphazard adventures. She seems to be a decent kid, and is a whole lot more likeable than Cas.
Thomas: Another High School student, and the one who lured Cas there in the first place... he is a mind-reader and a witch (although this book does not make it clear if ALL mind readers are witches or not). He attempts to befriend and watch out for Cas, and is dogged about it, even though Cas is a total jerk to someone who, you would think, Cas would recognize immediately as an important ally.
Anna: The ghost. She's obviously tormented, and for whatever reason, can't kill Cas, which allows him to have some deep conversation with her. Is it sad that I prefer Anna's character to Cas?
Cas's Mother: A white witch who travels the country at the whim of her teenaged son. She comes across as a protective, but meek character.
Mike, Will and Chase: The three moronic, predictable goons of the story. Are they jocks? Yes. Are they stereotypes? Yes. Did they offer any surprises? No.
Gideon: The mysterious British voice over the phone... aka, an old friend of Cas's father that we never actually meet, but he conveys really potent, important info to Cas, and gives a little background story concerning Cas's father. He reminded me of Giles from Buffy.
Morfran: Thomas's grandfather... and someone I really expected to step in a little more... I mean... you've got all these kids dealing with crazy occult and ghost stuff... you're pretty informed in that area, and you let the kids do their thing and call all the shots? Hmm.
Cas's Father: Dead from the start of the book, Cas's father is what set him on the path he's on. He died under mysterious circumstances that Cas just can't let go, despite everyone's warnings.
Tybalt: Cas's mother's cat, he is a special cat who can detect the supernatural... which is evidently something all cats can do, but this one is better at it for some unexplained reason (literally, it's unexplained... Thomas mentions the cat is special... but no one ever says how).
Writing: One thing I will say about this book, I actually love Kendare Blake's writing style. It flowed, and the description of the ghosts and the atmosphere were just downright creepy. She had my looking over my shoulder in rooms of my own house... and I've lived here for years without anything "spooky" ever happening. She is gifted at creating imagery in the reader's mind.
The VERY end of this book really is enticing. Even though I disliked quite a lot of things about this book, I will read the second, hoping the things I disliked about this book are not quite as glaring in the next.
Plot:Ah... the parts I hated most about this book all lie in the plot.
1. THE ATTIC. What... the... heck. Cas and his mother professionally hunt ghosts? They even have a cat who detects them... they clense every house they live in... and yet they neglect to check THE ATTIC???? It's like not checking the friggin basement. This was really, really unacceptable for me, as far as being able to believe this story or these characters... *especially* when Tybalt started freaking out about the attic, and Cas's mother heard things up there that went bump in the night. How was that NOT a glaring warning for them?? When I got to the part where the thing comes down out of the attic, I wanted to throw the book across the room... but it was a library book, so I refrained (I also wanted to smack Cas for literally telling his mother to shut up... it made me like him even less). It was so dumb that they didn't check EVERY room of the house, especially after their little house walk through, and the story of what happened to his mother once before. It made no sense and was an inexplicable, glaring oversight.. and just really bothered me because I felt like the author just couldn't think of anything better, so cheated to get the ghost in the house.
2. LOVE PLOT FROM A MANGA: Have you ever heard of shojo manga? It's the girly love story brand of manga (a manga is a japanese comic), where the characters tend to fall in love within the span of a page or two for no really great reason. Well... that's how I feel about the love story in Anna Dressed in Blood. Cas falls in love with this ghost (who has ripped human flesh to shreds right before his eyes) in the span of pages, and then suddenly trusts her whole-heartedly. Don't get me wrong, as far as characters in this book go, Anna is one of my favorites, but for Cas, Mr. Trust-no-one-even-if-they'd-obviously-make-an-excellent-ally, be-a-total-dick-almost-all-of-the-time, Super ghost hunter on a mission to do nothing but avenge his father... falling in love with Anna seems totally out of character. He literally is instantly transformed from a real jerk into a character I can actually find myself liking... it's why I'll read the second book, because I hope the author relents on his stupid machismo attitude... and there is promise of that... but unfortunately it came at the expense of a believable love story. I get it, he's all swoony and not thinking particularly straight... but his lack of fear around her just makes me think he's an idiot... even Sam took longer to fall in love with a Demon (that being Sam from Supernatural... a tv show with a hauntingly similar plot) than Cas did to fall in love with a Ghost. To me, it seemed just like the attic, a convenient plot device that felt contrived. Would it have been so awful for him to befriend her in the first book, and come to really respect her? There are obviously more than one of these books coming, so why not take your time and make it a rich, wonderful love story... why rush it?
3. TYBALT: Yes, it pisses me off that he died. I hope he haunts Cas and makes his life a living hell!!! This cat did his job 100% and they blithely ignored him. Shame on you, Ghost Hunters, shame on you (and really lame of you too, for supposedly being so experienced).
4. HUMAN VILLAINS WITH NO DEPTH: I mean this... did Mike, Will or Chase do a single thing that surprised you? Nope... very boring human villains. Normally, I wouldn't have an issue with this, but Cas made a point of pointing out repeatedly how clever Will seemed to be.
5. BIG BAD SUPERNATURAL VILLAIN WITH NO BACKGROUND: I can only hope this will be filled out more in future books... I'm hoping the end of this book didn't actually see the end of this villain... because an Obeahman could be really terrifying... if, you know, we had known more about him. I mean, yeah, the whole eyes stitched shut, jaw unhinging was creepy... but other than that, all we got was an info drop on what an Obeahman was, and a pretty skimmed one at that. Voodoo can be some really, really, really scary, creepy stuff... and he's supposed to be creepier than Voodoo? I need to know more to believe it. Just telling me isn't showing me... and what I was shown of him wasn't creepier than what I saw of Anna... so I wasn't really feeling the terror... nevermind we know *nothing* about this specific Obeahman... so he's just some vague, random ghost that Cas's dad had the bad luck of running into.
Believability of World: I think all the ghostiness works... it's creepy and I like the explanation that people don't WANT to explain some deaths. That works... we've all seen the world turn a blind eye to atrocities, especially when they can't explain them... but Cas's stupidity about certain things and the love story's rushed feel really kill a little bit of it for me.
Overall Grade: C+ ~ I really loved certain aspects of this book, and will read the second one... but there were certain things in this story that really just made me angry... just glaring plot holes, or contrived romances, or generally unlikeable main characters that made me want to chuck this book across the room. I'm hoping book two is a little more well thought out, and a whole lot less convenient when it comes to events that occur within the story.
I would like to give this book a higher score, because I really thought Blake's physical description of the ghosts was spooky and fantastic (and so was some of the emotional conflict the ghosts experienced)... but this book just made me so angry when it came to those other things that I can't overlook that.